This might be a strange place to post this entry, but since this blog is quickly turning into a story of my life instead of a purely professional one, as it was intended, I will post it all the same.
So, to put it mildly, I am not the most confident driver. It might well go back to the guy who passed me on my driving test in Latvia when I was eighteen by saying that he was only doing it, so he would never have to sit in the same car as me. Mind you, I did not do anything too unsafe, but I did slam the door of his precious car (in Latvia, you take a test in a specially designed vehicle, that this particular instructor was in love with) and shifted from gear one to four, but it was mostly because I had never driven such a new car before and was not used to such an easy shift, some of my fellow drivers (more experienced than me) failed because they did no realize the car had started already, how quiet the engine was… Anyways, to cut the long story short, it took me years to start driving properly, in fact, not until last year when my husband was away for three months and I was stuck with two young children in a place that can only be described as a Latvian suburb, did I start driving on daily basis.
This whole introduction is to explain why I took studying for the California written test so seriously. The written (and driving) test in Latvia is very difficult, one must go to a driving school in order to pass it. It most definitely does not enhance the way people drive however. My husband says that only in Kosovo has he seen worse drivers than in Latvia. I do consider that a slight exaggeration, but the fact of the matter is that this super complicated test (both driving and written) and expensive driving training does not automatically translate into good driving practices. Mostly because it is not common sense. It is just geared towards memorizing a huge quantity of rules.
So while I was studying for the test, Sherwin was making fun of me that I am trying way too hard for it. All I did was 1) read the brochure once; 2) watch the DMV California youtube videos on rules of the road and the driving test; 3) look through some tests that Sherwin’s dads friends had taken in 2007 and 2008; and last but not least 4) did the sample tests (5 I think) on the DMV page. I guess this is really much more than most people do, because after I scored 100 % on the test (my old over-achiever self came out of the closet and gave myself a little pat on the back for that), the friendly gray-haired gentleman behind the counter looked up and said: “100 %. We don’t see too many of those. What did you do? Read the brochure?”
The common sense as the whole written test was, the DMV (Department of Motorized Vehicles) was a completely different matter. Now… I am usually very impressed by the American capacity to organize. On peacekeeping missions American servicemen/women are usually the best at it, more down to earth and common-sense than some of their more rule obliging European counterparts. My husband is a super good organizer. He has been known to make To-do-lists ever since he was a little boy. But that clearly has to do with his personality more than his nationality. In any case… to my greatest surprise (which should have probably not have been so great, as I had been forewarned) the California DMV was anything but well-organized.
And here I definitely require a little note for my Latvian readers, who are not completely familiar with the relationship American social and political system has to their cars. To put it plainly, I think had the automobile been around in 1787, the right to possess one would have been worked into the American constitution along the right to bear an arm. Your driver’s license is your legal identification card!!!!! You use it to buy alcohol (if you look anywhere (+20 years) near 21, which I guess I still do occasionally) . And…. you can register to vote or what your political affiliation is with the Department of Motorized Vehicles. It might not seem weird to you, Americans out there, but it sure does to me. Thus, it can be safely said that American politics and cars (and everything that comes with, including the black, oily liquid that is used to make gasoline to power them) do certainly mix. Knowing how special the relationship between the American and his or her car is, one would expect the place where all things car are done to be …. well…a shrine… or more realistically… at least a smooth operating machine. You could not be more mistaken.
I have to say that I probably did not get the worst of it. I was advised to try a smaller DMV office, not the city. I pre-registered. All that meant, however, was that I still had to line up (in a shorter line titled Pre-Registred) and was served by the same person, who was serving the much longer line of people who had failed to do it. I got the form to fill out (along with the advice where to keep my Social security number) and a number, which came up the minute I got the form, while I was running to the counter, another woman went there before me, so I decided to fill out the form instead. Out of 17 counters, only about 6 were being served, and the people kept disappearing. There was a total of 9 employees there (out there in the hall) and what is safe to say at least 100 clients waiting to be served. So, I really don’t know if they could have fulfilled their threat to the Russian woman, who was using her best Soviet tactics of loud shaming, to escort her out of the building. So, the person behind my counter disappeared. I took a new number, which now was four numbers down and took a while to come up.
Once it did, I dashed to the counter just to meet a guy in a Caleb Mexico baseball cap and a dirty jumper, who did not take my greeting and looked so miserable that I wondered if he was severely depressed. He threw the form back at me several times, with a comment like: “So which class of license are you applying for?” Me: ” C – I guess (little hesitant, because the same type is called B in Latvia)” Guy: “So mark it down.” etc. The speed at which he processed my application indicated that I might be the last person before lunch to serve and he sure did not want to take another one.
Once I was done with him, I was sent to another guy to take my picture (oh, no, I really did not think it was going to be today, or else I would have washed my hair). He was just the opposite of the previous employee to the extreme. Kept commenting on my eye color and that there were pretty girls in Latvia. Borderline sexual harassment, but still more pleasant than my previous encounter. The rest does not require a long re-telling. I received the test afterwords, filled it out quickly (next to a man who seemed to have been sitting in the exam area since I arrived at the office an hour ago), got my answers checked, got asked if I read the brochure because not too many people score 100 %, and was awarded a temporary license. Voilà! Be aware… I am driving a big mini van out there somewhere.